The internet is a dynamic, innovative part of our economy, and so it stands to reason that the Obama administration would want to regulate it.  

We’ve blogged a number of times (here, here, and here for starters) on the Obama administration’s plans to regulate the internet as a public utility. The FCC is scheduled to vote on a proposal to do just this on February 26. If it passes, the internew will be regulated under cumbersome regulations originating in the 1930s.

Senator Mike Lee said in an open letter on the issue that the internet will become more expensive for users if it is regulated as a public utility. Then Lee posed the big question:

Who do you want in charge of the direction of the Internet: people at dot-com startups that brought us game changing companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon and Uber; or nameless, faceless, unelected bureaucrats in our nation’s capital?

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, an Obama appointee, is carrying the banner for the administration's plan, which goes by the misleading name of net neutrality. Interestingly, Wheeler has been reluctant to share the proposal with the public until after the vote.

But a new survey released by the Progressive Policy Institute shows that—get this—American want to know more before this drastic change is made. The survey, conducted for PPI by Hart Research Associates, also showed that the majority of American don’t know what “net neutrality” means—not surprising, I’d imagine the term was created to obscure rather than reveal. The survey was conducted from Feb. 13-15 and had 800 respondents, aged eighteen and over.

Here is what the survey found:

  • Nearly three out of four (74%) Americans are unfamiliar with the term “net neutrality” and what it refers to.
  • 73% of Americans want greater disclosure of the details of the FCC’s proposal to regulate the Internet.
  • Nearly eight in ten (79%) Americans favor public disclosure of the exact wording and details of the FCC’s proposal to regulate the Internet before the FCC votes on it.
  • Only one in three Americans thinks that regulating the Internet like telephone service will be helpful.

Based on these findings, Peter Hart, founder of Hart Research Associates, said, “The public neither understands nor supports the FCC voting on net neutrality rules without greater disclosure of the exact wording and the details of the proposal. “Net neutrality is near net zero understanding: just one in four Americans knows what the term refers to, and just one in 10 Americans has positive feelings about it. In addition, a majority of Americans think ‘the government should not take a stronger and more active role in overseeing and regulating the Internet.’”

And PPI President Will Marshall said this:

“These findings suggest that the FCC’s bid to impose outdated telephone regulations on the Internet is driven more by professional activists than by the public, which seems instinctively to resist the idea,” said Will Marshall, PPI President. “That’s why Congress should take a closer look at what the FCC is up to and make sure these issues get a thorough public airing.”

Ya think?

I’d like to say that this survey will affect the Obama administration’s move on the internet. I’d like to say that. But I am just not sure it will. February 26 will be an interesting day. Wouldn’t it be nice if we’d had a chance to see the proposal before the vote?